MOSCOW : Moscow's main airport closed to international traffic Sunday as unseasonably warm weather produced hail storms that wreaked havoc with the city's traffic and left shoppers navigating streets of ice.
The heavy sleet downed transmission lines across central Russia and ground Moscow's traffic — notorious at the best of times — to a virtual halt.
Domodedovo International Airport, which handles a daily average of more than 55,000 travellers, reported a total power outage at around 8:00 am (0500 GMT).
The airport only managed to handle a handful of local flights, with about 8,000 people left stranded, according to the aviation authority.
The city's second-largest airport Sheremetyevo remained open but also experienced hours-long delays on some international routes. It received 10 flights from Domodedovo before shutting to the extra traffic because of the weather, state television said.
By late Sunday Domodedovo remained without power, with generators providing electricity to a few offices and passengers making their way through the terminal by the light of mobile phones, an AFP photographer said.
Airport employees were telling stranded passengers to go home but trains connecting the airport to Moscow weren't running and taxis were charging 10 times the normal price for a ride into the city.
At Sheremetyevo, a woman whose Air France flight was cancelled said passengers were lining up at ticket offices hoping to change their flights.
“Nothing is being explained, we aren't getting any answers,” she told AFP.
Temperatures in Russia's capital hovered around the freezing point throughout the weekend, producing unseasonable rain showers that turned the city into what one television station described as a “concrete skating rink”.
The warm front saw some residents putting mattresses on their cars to save them from massive icicles dropping from the city's buildings. Other were seen holding on to the walls of buildings as they carefully navigated the streets.
Moscow officials advised the city's 10-million-plus inhabitants to stay at home, with a mayor's office spokesman telling the Interfax news agency that people should not venture outside “unless there was an extreme emergency”.
The freezing rain also damaged power supply lines used by the city's trams and trolley buses, with officials ordering 96 extra buses onto the streets to cover the affected routes.
“I wanted to leave the car at home and take the trolley, but those are not moving either,” one man told NTV television while digging his car out from under the snow.
Further problems were also reported on Moscow's suburban train routes. A spokesman told Interfax that there were delays throughout the region “affecting almost all the destination points”.
The deputy head of Moscow's regional government told state television that the power outages had affected 455 settlements around the city and other parts of central Russia, with 197,000 people left without electricity by midday.
Moscow's December temperatures average about minus five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the Pogoda.ru weather website, with daily lows recorded at around minus eight degrees Celsius.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia